If you like crocodiles and alligators, then Australia Zoo is for you!
However, it has more than just croc's and 'gators. There are lots of other wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, birds, wombats, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, reptiles, rhinoceros' and much more.
Australia Zoo is spread over 40 hectares (100 acres) in the midst of the Beerwah State Forest on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, around an hour's drive north of Brisbane (people will say "it doesn't take that long to get there..." but allow an hour). The zoo is located on the aptly-names Steve Irwin Way, in honour of the zoo's former owner, Steve Irwin, otherwise known to millions as 'The Crocodile Hunter', who died an untimely death in September 2006 while filming an underwater documentary on wildlife (more on Steve later).
The Glass House Mountains surround the zoo and the drive, once off the highway (coming from Brisbane), is spectacular.
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Photo (above): Fang 2, an American alligator, peers out of the water in its pond.
*All prices are in Australian dollars and all information is relevant as of January 2013.
The Glass House Mountains, viewed from near Maleny. You will drive between the mountains if you are coming from Brisbane.
Steve Irwin Way sign outside Australia Zoo.
Australia Zoo - you can't miss it, no matter which way you come from!
(cars queue to access Steve Irwin Way)
Some of the wildlife (there are lots more photos of wildlife throughout the post!)...
LtoR Fang 2 and her mate, Barney...two of the 'salties' - saltwater crocodiles.
Surely the most photographed of all Australian native animals - two koalas get snapped as they sleep.
A komodo dragon (it was behind glass).
Nat's favourite - a Binturong - catches some rays (it's nocturnal).
Two camels chow down.
Some of you might know the Looney Tunes character, 'Taz', who is a Tasmanian Devil.
Australia Zoo is one of Australia's premier tourist destinations and it's easy to see why. Everything about the zoo is world class. I arrived bang on opening time (9am) and spent a leisurely six hours wandering through the zoo grounds. I saw everything but missed a few of the schedules shows and, in hindsight, I think I could have easily spent two days at the zoo (50% off the 2nd day of a two day pass - prices below).
The entire time I was at Australia Zoo I was constantly impressed with the service, scale and presentation of everything I encountered. This started at the zoo entry...I'd bought my ticket with a Red Balloon voucher and, to cut a long story short, the voucher was dated for the following day onwards. I arrived at the gate and spoke to the staff present and they had no problems with the 'issue'. They treated the vouchers as normal and I entered the zoo without a worry.
One thing to note - it pays to get your tickets online before you go, as there are Members/Pre-Paid lines at the entry and you don't have to worry about queuing behind people paying with credit cards or counting heads while fumbling for money to pay for everyone.
Zoo entry costs:
Family 5 Ticket 2 adult and 3 children: $189.00
Family 4 Ticket 2 adult and 2 children: $172.00
Adult Ticket: $59.00
Pensioner Ticket: $47.00
Student Ticket: $47.00
Child Ticket (3-14 years): $35.00
2 Day Wild Pass get 50% off your second day!
Family 5 Ticket 2 adult and 3 children - 2 Day Pass: $283.50
Family 4 Ticket 2 adult and 2 children - 2 Day Pass: $258.00
Adult Ticket - 2 Day Pass: $87.00
Pensioner Ticket - 2 Day Pass: $69.00
Student Ticket - 2 Day Pass: $69.00
Child Ticket (3-14 years) - 2 Day Pass: $51.00
Purchase tickets online HERE.
This was just after opening at 9am but the queues get quite long.
It's worth your while to get your tickets online and be able to pass through the Members/Pre-Paid gates.
Australia Zoo is designed for walking, so bring comfortable shoes. There are lots of trees and shade but bring a hat and sunscreen. I even wore a long sleeve, light cotton shirt. The options were to wear a T-shirt and lather up with sunscreen or go long sleeve. I chose the latter but even slapped some sunscreen on the face all the same. Even with cloud cover, you can still get easily sunburnt if you're out and about all day.
I was there in early January, at the height of the Australian summer, and there was cloud cover to keep the temperature slightly down. It's easy to get fooled into thinking you're safe if it's cooler than usual and there's cloud cover, only to get home that night and find the exposed parts of your body have turned a subtle shade of red. The Sunshine Coast has a subtropical climate, so summers can get not only quite hot but also quite humid (people from the tropical north of Australia reading this will probably scoff).
There is plenty of shade but take precautions against the sun all the same.
I don't know if it's planned that way or not but there was a lot of things happening when you first walk through the gates. You could get your photo taken with a baby crocodile and there were lots of enclosures and animals to see. I can only assume this is done because when you first enter everything is 'new and exciting' and you are yet to hit 'relax' mode. Then, as you progress through the park, you become more relaxed and the enclosures and space becomes more spread out. This is a theory but, looking at the zoo map, this certainly seems to be the case.
See the Australia Zoo map HERE.
Some things you will find close to the entrance...
A rhinoceros iguana (in its enclosure).
Cameron the crocodile (named after the zoo's sculptor who made it).
This is 8.3 metre (27 ft) beast is a replica of a crocodile that could still be 'out there'.
As the day heats up, there's a lot of sleeping done. This dingo wasn't going anywhere!
Albert the American alligator lurks in his pond.
The Walk of Fame.
A couple of Aldabra tortoises - the world's largest species of tortoise.
While the Tasmanian Devil in the earlier photos was striking a more traditional pose, this one had
discovered the best way to cool off on a warm day.
Perhaps this kids play area is close to the entrance because Australia Zoo know the drive to the zoo is probably
going to be at least an hour and there's every chance the wee ones will be restless by the time they've arrived, then had to queue to get in.
A few minutes in the play area before checking out the wildlife could make life easier for all and sundry!
There are also a couple of early 'warning' signs...
Take the words Colosseum and crocodile, slam them together, and you end up with a 5,000 seat ampitheatre called the Crocoseum!
The Crocoseum is the centrepiece of Australia Zoo. It affords its 5,000 spectators the chance to see how crocodiles live and behave in the wild, albeit in clear ponds of water.
However, it's not simply a case of 'get the crocs in, let them do their thing and get them out'. The show put on in the Crocoseum is more like a mini-extravaganza. I'm not sure if it's the same every day but I'll let the photos do the talking...
*Entry to the Crocoseum is free.
The Crocoseum awaits its audience.
All audiences need a warm up!
Bindi Irwin, the daughter of Steve Irwin, performs with her 'Jungle Girls' on a stage at one end of the Crocoseum.
The message was all about conservation and was very much aimed at the younger audience, some of who can be seen
in front of the stage. There was a scout jamboree happening near Maryborough and a couple of thousand
scouts had descended upon Australia Zoo - hence the 'mosh pit' you see here.
Once Bindi and the Jungle Girls had finished, birds began flying around the Crocosuem.
They were obviously trained and I have no idea how they trained the birds to do what they did - spectacular!
Once done, the first wave of birds settled among the audience.
Three scarlett macaws get a little closer than others.
This Andean condor didn't mingle with the audience.
There was no mingling with the patrons from this black-necked stork (jabiru), either, who descended
from the sky after flying in from somewhere else in the zoo.
Out came the snakes - here the resident 'yobbo' (his name escapes me) shows what not to do with a snake.
It was fake but the message remained serious in a light-hearted manner and always reverted back to conservation.
Another snake, although this was the real thing - one of the handlers with a sea snake.
Once the support acts were done, then came the 'real thing', complete with dramatic music pumping from the sound system.
That long dark shape you can see in the pond is Graham, the crocodile who was the star of the day's show.
He emerged from the waterway at right and his mere presence was menacing. The crowd went noticeably quiet.
Terri Irwin (left), Steve's wife, was there to greet Graham and gave us all a few snippets of information about crocodiles
before one of the other keepers got Graham's attention by getting in the water and banging his bucket.
Better him than me!!!
Having survived banging his bucket, the keeper then put on a mini-show for the audience.
The mini-show was followed by Bindi, who had had a quick costume change and was now in her khakis.
Bindi is still learning the trade when it comes to feeding crocs and Terri was there to give a guiding hand.
The point of this is to show that crocs are capable of leaping out of the water.
Quite a few monkeys, especially, have learnt this the hard way in the wild!
Bindi then had a go at feeding Graham up close and personal.
Even though there was a lot of light-hearted banter throughout the show, when it came time to
interact with the crocs, things got a little more serious. One false move and it could get ugly.
Crocs aren't all that fast out of the water, and what better way to show it than by lying in front of one.
This is the same bloke who was in the water banging his bucket...once again - "better him than me!!!"
Everyone has to learn to crawl before they walk...
I remained in my seat to let the crowd out first and, moments after the show ended, Robert, Steve Irwin's son, came back out with one
of the handlers. A baby saltwater crocodile swam out of the waterway where Graham had disappeared a few minutes earlier, and Robert
performed the same routine on the baby croc as the handlers and big sister, Bindi, had done with Graham. The baby croc was feisty and
a couple of times gave Robert reason to back-peddle quickly! It was a lovely moment seeing the apprentice learning his trade.
The Crocoseum complex is not only the centrepiece of Australia Zoo, it is also the centre point. It is here that you can shop, get your photo taken with wildlife and eat. And if the wee ones are getting a bit restless, the Kids Zoo is also there, where you can see and pet the baby animals up close.
Plenty of fun for the younger members of the family (and the not-so-young ones, too!).
"Who said kids?!"
Two inhabitants investigate what's going on.
A couple (left) get ready to take hold of a koala and get their photo. That's the queue of people (right) waiting
to get their photo taken with a koala - it's very popular - and the Photo Shop behind them.
The Crocoseum complex is a busy area.
If you find yourself a little peckish after seeing the show in the Crocoseum, the 'Feeding Frenzy Food Court' is right next door. By that we mean you can walk out of one and directly into the other.
The food court is big and has to be, because the Crocoseum show starts at noon and finishes around 12.45pm, so the majority of people watch the show and head next door for lunch. Even if half of the 5,000 strong crowd are hungry, then there's going to be a lot of bums on seats.
The Feeding Frenzy Food Court, disappearing into the distance in both directions.
I got in early - before the noon show in the Crocoseum next door - and avoided the 'feeding frenzy'!
Having been to other tourist theme parks, this is probably the best and healthiest food court I've come across. There are several similar 'outlets' in row offering different types of food, much like that you'd see in a shopping mall food court (except no brand names like McDonalds etc).
Below are some of what was on offer:
Turkey and cranberry sandwich - $6.55
Salad wrap - $7.90
Chicken and Salad roll - $9.70
Tempura prawn sushi roll - $4.35
Pasta salad - $8.20
Ham and salad plate - $9.90
Supreme pizza - $10.65
Mega meat pizza - $10.65
Beef Lasagne - $11
Feeding Frenzy Deluxe Burger - $12.65
(beef pattie, bacon, egg, carrot, mushroom, capsicum, cucumber, onion, cheese and beetroot)
Croc Box - 12.95
(Bindi burger, fries, small drink, puzzle page and crayons)
Hot dog - $5.60
Chiko roll - $3.60
Chips - $4.25
Cheesecake - $6.60
Muffin - $4.40
Latte/cappuccino - $4.95
Small soft drink - $3.85
Medium soft drink - $5.40
600ml soft drink bottle - $4.60
Once you're done feeding yourself, you can always spend $2 and get a bag of food to feed the kangaroos...
The one other 'dining' area we came across was at the other end of Australia Zoo, overlooking the Africa exhibit...
The tents add to the African theme.
I waited for an 'African' animal to come into view for added authenticity, but had no joy.
The Africa exhibit is a leisurely stroll to the other side of Australia Zoo.
Alternatively you can get the shuttle bus, which does a circuit of the zoo and stops at several locations.
Handlers wait with cheetahs in beside the road along which the shuttle travels at the Africa exhibit. They're not necessarily there for all shuttles.
It really was 'feeding time at the zoo' when we wandered past the Africa exhibit.
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The Africa exhibit isn't the only large scale animal exhibit...
South East Asia.
An Asian elephant gives itself a dust bath.
Two red pandas chill out in the tree tops.
Welcome to the 'Tiger Temple'.
Strangely enough, while it seemed every other animal was having its siesta time, the ones we expected to be
Lots of birds in there...
...such as brolgas.
Wandering through the Wetlands exhibit.
Where there is ponies, there is usually...
From ponies to snakes and lizards.
This isn't so much an exhibit as another area where the crocs are shown to the public.
Some more of the Australian wildlife at Australia Zoo...
Koalas aren't known for their, shall we say, 'activity', and the ones at Australia Zoo were doing nothing to dispel this reputation.
The kangaroos even get their own rest area!
The rest areas were well-patronised!
A short-beaked echidna scurries across the open ground.
Cassowaries are rarely spotted in the wild.
Wombats - a huge favourite of mine - doing their thing. They look so jolly but they do have a reputation for crankiness.
A Bush Stone-curlew has a bath.
Steve Irwin's presence
I found Steve Irwin's presence at Australia Zoo down-played. To remove all traces of the man known globally as The Crocodile Hunter would be disrespectful to his legacy and (still) millions of fans. Before Steve Irwin came along, there was no one quite like him. Since his death it seems every wildlife persona on TV is a copy of one sort or another, but never as good as the real thing.
There are images and references to Steve around Australia Zoo but the zoo is large enough that you don't feel as though the zoo is a shrine to him. I'll let the photos do the talking...
Statue on site of Steve with the family and, of course, a crocodile!
Steve was famous for his khaki shirts and shorts. When he died, as well as condolence books, people could sign one of the many
khaki shirts made available. The shirts and condolence books are on display at the Crocoseum complex.
At the end of Bindi's show in the Crocoseum, she briefly talks about her dad and she and the Jungle Girls perform a song about 'her dad',
while images of Steve appeared on the big screen above. If this sounds a bit 'schmaltzy', it isn't. Also, before crocodiles made their
appearance in the Crocoseum, there was a brief clip of Steve delivering his conservation message.
The 'Save Steve's Place' sign at the entry gates to Australia Zoo (this was at the end of the day, so not very busy).
At the start of the Crocoseum show Steve's son, Robert, spoke about the strip mining that will threaten
12,300 hectares (30,000 acres) of the 135,000 hectare (333,000 acre) Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Queensland's Cape York Peninsula.
The sign at the top of the photo says it all.
A random sign showing Steve in a customary pose.
The old entrance to Australia Zoo (part of the driveway of the new entrance can be seen behind it). This was where all the flowers and
tributes were left when Steve died, so it means a lot to many people, even if the signage and imagery are starting to fade.
No, this isn't an escapee making a break for it!
Australia Zoo is full of wildlife roaming free that is not 'part of the show', including this fella/girl.
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I hope you enjoyed my visit to Australia Zoo. Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions - TravelWithGiulio@gmail.com
Until next time,
1638 Steve Irwin Way, Beerwah
See my 'eat, sleep and see' page for more suggestions of things to do in Brisbane and SE Qld.
All photos and text by Giulio Saggin, unless otherwise stated.
© Use of photos and text must be via written permission